The 1647 Westminster Shorter Catechism on Prayer (Question 98)

The 1647 Westminster Shorter Catechism (Question 98) on prayer:

Question: What is prayer?

Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Q1. How many parts are there in prayer?

A1. There are three parts in prayer – petition, confession, and thanksgiving; but most properly, prayer doth consist in petition.

Q2. What kind of petition is prayer unto God?

A2. The petition of the lips, without the desire of the heart, may be accounted in prayer by men, but it is not acceptable prayer unto God, which is an offering up of the desires unto him, and pouring forth of the heart before him (cf. Psalm 62:8).

Q3. Unto whom are we to direct our prayers?

A3. We are to direct our prayers to God only (cf. Psalm 5:2-3).

Q4. Why are we to direct our prayers only unto God?

A4. We are to direct our prayers only unto God – 1) Because our prayer is a part of religious worship, and God is the only object of religious worship (cf. Matthew 4:10); 2) Because God only is everywhere present to see his people, and to hear their prayers (cf. Psalm 34:15); and 3) Because God only can answer our prayers by fulfilling our desires, and giving the things which we pray for and stand in need of (cf. Psalm 145:18-19).

Q5. For what things may we pray unto God?

A5. 1) We may not pray for the fulfilling of any sinful desires (cf. James 4:3); and 2) We may and ought to pray unto God only for such things as are agreeable unto his will (cf. 1 John 5:14-15).

Q6. What are the things agreeable unto God’s will which we may pray for?

A6. The things which we may pray for, are not all things which are agreeable unto his secret will; for thus all things which come to pass, even the worst of sins which are committed, are agreeable unto God’s secret counsel and eternal determination; but all things which are agreeable unto God’s revealed will in his Word, we may pray for; such as the pardon of our sins, the supplies of his grace, spiritual life and strength here, eternal life and glory hereafter, deliverance from spiritual and eternal evils; also whatever temporal good things we stand in need of, and all those things which either expressly or inclusively he hath promised in his covenant unto us.

Q7. In whose name ought we to pray unto God?

A7. We ought to pray unto God only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:13-14).

Q8. What is it pray unto God in the name of Christ?

A8. To pray unto God in the name of Christ, is not barely to mention the name of Christ with our lips in the conclusion, or any part of our prayers; but it is by faith to mention his name, depending upon Christ alone for admittance and access unto God in prayer, for acceptance, audience, and a gracious return unto our prayers (cf. Ephesians 3:12).

Q9. Why must we pray unto God in the name of Christ?

A9. We must pray unto God in the name of Christ, because God being so infinitely holy and jealous, so infinitely just and righteous, and we being so unholy and sinful, and our prayers at best so imperfect, and so mingled with defilement, that neither our persons would find acceptance, nor our prayers any audience with God, without the name and meditation of Christ, and the mixture of the sweet incense of his merits with our prayers, to take away the ill savour of them, and the using of his interest with the Father, upon his account alone, to give an answer unto them (cf. Revelation 8:3-4).

Q10. May we not make use of the name of angels, and the Virgin Mary, and other saints, in prayer, directing our prayers unto them to help us, at least to improve their interest in heaven for us, as the Papists [i.e., Roman Catholics] do teach and practice?

A10. 1) It is idolatry to direct our prayers unto any creature, God being the alone object of this and all other religious worship; therefore we ought not to direct our prayers unto angels (who have refused worship), much less unto any saints (cf. Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10); 2) There is but one Mediator and Intercessor in heaven for us, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is an affront to him to make use any angels or saints as our intercessors (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1); 3) We have neither precept nor example in Scripture for, nor any promise unto any prayers which we shall make either unto or by either angels or saints; 4) The chiefest saints in heaven are ignorant of our condition on earth; neither can they, where they are, hear, much less give answer unto our prayers, and therefore are unfit to be the object of our prayers, or to make particular intercession for us (cf. Isaiah 63:16). Therefore the doctrine and practice of the Papists herein is both unallowable and abominable.

Q11. How must we pray unto God, that our prayers may be acceptable unto him, and answered by him?

A11. That our prayers may be acceptable unto God, and answered by him, we must pray – 1) With sincerity (cf. Hebrews 10:22); 2) With humility (cf. Psalm 10:17); 3) With faith (cf. James 1:6); 4) With fervency (cf. James 5:16); 5) With perseverance (cf. Luke 18:1); 6) We must look after our prayers, and wait for a return (cf. Micah 7:7).

Q12. Can we ourselves pray thus acceptably unto God?

A12. We cannot of ourselves pray thus acceptably unto God, without the Spirit of God to help our infirmities, and to teach us both for what and how to pray (cf. Romans 7:26-27).

Q13. Doth God accept and answer all prayers that are offered unto him?

A13. 1) God doth not accept and answer the prayers of the wicked (cf. Proverbs 15:8); 2) God doth not accept the prayers of his own people when they regard iniquity in their hearts (cf. Psalm 66:18); 3) God doth accept the prayers of his people which are offered up unto him in the name of Christ, and by the help of the Spirit, and which are for things agreeable unto his will; so that he either giveth the things unto them which they pray for, or else something that is equivalent or better for them.

Q14. What is the second part of prayer?

A14. The second part of prayer is confession of our sins, with which our petitions for pardon and supply of our wants should be introduced.

Q15. What sins should we make confession of in prayer?

A15. In prayer, we should make confession of our original and actual sins against law and gospel; of omission and commission, in thought and heart, or lip and life, with aggravations of them; acknowledging withal our desert of temporal, spiritual, eternal judgments and punishments for them (cf. Psalm 32:5; Psalm 51:4-5; Daniel 9:8).

Q16. How ought we in prayer to confess our sins?

A16. We ought in prayer to confess our sins humbly, fully, freely, with grief for them, and hatred of them, with full purpose and full resolution, in the strength of the Lord, not to return again to the practice of them.

Q17. What is the third part of prayer?

A17. The third part of prayer is, thankful acknowledgment of God’s mercies, temporal and spiritual, here, and the promises of life and happiness in the other world; which we ought to acknowledge with admiration, faith, love, joy, and all kind of suitable affections (Philippians 4:6).

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